1 The University of Manchester, UK
DiscussionRussia’s war on Ukraine, Covid-19 and the Trump presidency highlight disinformation’s threat to democracy. Yet the implicit persistence of Cold War binaries - pitting democratic 'truth-telling' against totalitarian 'deceit' - even in relation to homegrown disinformation - hampers attempts to counter this problem in the multipolar, Big Data age. The result is a glut of poorly differentiated terms: disinformation, misinformation, fake news, post-truth, and astroturfing, to name a few. This dichotomous viewpoint heeds neither disinformation’s contested meaning, nor how the narratives it designates change across time, languages, and cultures. It explains the emergence of a 'Big Disinfo' industry: the burgeoning monitoring initiatives whose success depends on maintaining the sense of an undifferentiated toxic morass rather than trying to draw out fine distinctions of language, culture, or context. This paper therefore proposes a new approach which treats disinformation as a translingual, historically mutating phenomenon forged within the socio-politically contingent realm of discourse. Big Disinfo's abiding focus on Kremlin malfeasance, bolstered by the Ukraine war, motivates an emphasis on multilingual narratives linked to Russia and the USSR. But by pinpointing the Russian node in a translingual network, the paper will outline a model for identifying and combatting disinformation practices of diverse provenance.